Posted by: Mike Willoughby | September 21, 2010

Winding Roads

Last week, in Story-Telling I wrote about passing the faith from one generation to the next through the art of story-telling.  Last Sunday, Kristal and I were teaching in a first grade Sunday school class and I was able to do some story-telling with the first-graders involving a story of faith that has been told and retold over 3000 years as an example of how God works through tough situations to preserve and protect his people and accomplish his sovereign plans.  The bible class story was from the book of Ruth although I believe it is actually more the story of Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi.

In the story, the Promised Land is suffering through a period of famine, possibly as a result of God’s discipline of his people for their flirtation with false gods and idols.  Naomi’s husband, Elimelech leaves Bethlehem and takes his wife and two sons to the neighboring country of Moab in search of better prospects for the family.  Although related to the Israelites through the family of Abraham, the Moabites worshipped the false god, Molech rather than the one true God.  While there, Naomi’s sons each married Moabite women.  One of Naomi’s new daughters  was named Ruth.  During the ten years the family lived in Moab, Elimelech and both sons died leaving Naomi and her daughters as widows.  Naomi maintained her faith in God and determined to return to her home country where the famine had subsided but she encouraged her daughters to remain in Moab where they could stay with their families, remain true to their country’s religion and remarry native men.  Ruth would not be persuaded to stay and at the end of chapter one, she utters these famous words of commitment to Naomi,

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 

Ruth returns to Bethlehem with Naomi and works hard supporting herself and Naomi according to the Law which provided foraging rights among the grain fields and vineyards for poor people.  Naomi was understandably distraught over her situation since her family line had effectively died along with Elimelech and her two sons.  She was so distraught that she changed her name to Mara which means “bitter.”  With no heirs and no realistic prospects for remarriage, Mara was effectively out of options for controlling her own destiny in a society where women were totally dependent upon the men in the family for survival.  It would be hard to blame Mara for being bitter!  Surely God was punishing her for Elimelech’s lack of faith when he fled to Moab with his family?  She must be outside God’s will, protection and providence.  All the evidence seemed to support that conclusion – except for the presence of Ruth in her life.

During this time, Naomi “Mara” continued to trust in God to provide for her and Ruth.  She depended on the provisions of the Law as she encouraged Ruth to go into the fields of their relatives to gather the grain that was left in the field for the poor.  She was totally dependent on God’s provision and on Ruth’s loving hard work.  One day, Ruth reported to Mara that the owner of one of the fields had noticed her working hard and had treated her very kindly.  Mara learned the man’s name was Boaz whom she recognized as a close relative of the family.  Mara remembered the Law included the concept of a “kinsmen-redeemer” for cases when a woman was widowed without a son to continue the family line.   The closest relative of the widow could marry her, operate her family property along his and provide for extension of the Elimelech’s family line (assuming a male child was born to the couple).  Although Boaz was not the closest cousin, he appreciated Ruth’s character and he desired her for a wife and therefore he skillfully negotiated a deal with his cousin to have the right of kinsmen-redeemer.  He married Ruth and she and Boaz gave Naomi (no longer Mara) a grandson to continue Naomi’s family line.  Ruth 4:14-17 wraps up the story of Naomi this way:

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

No doubt, Grandpa Obed told young David the story of Naomi’s winding path that led to her being David’s Great-Great-Grandmother.  What an amazing story of providence and redemption that turned Elimelech’s disastrous decision to flee the Promised Land into the series of events that created the family line that created the greatest King of Israel – and of course, the Messiah!

Two lessons struck me as I was preparing to tell this famous story to the first graders that I thought you might appreciate as much as the kids.

  1. Be patient with God’s winding roads!  How many times do you think Naomi wondered how she had managed to wander so far from “the right path” of success?  I’m certain there were many times when Naomi thought she had probably left any possible providential road and was simply off stuck in the ditch as a result of the family’s bad decisions.  And yet from the perspective of the end of life as she lived in the house of Boaz surrounded by family, she surely must have appreciated how God’s plan came together in her life.  Old bitter Mara was long gone, replaced by joyous and happy Naomi.  Our perspective over 3000 years later is that Naomi was privileged to be chosen to be a part of the royal line that gave us King David and the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.  Thank God, she persevered and traveled the winding road to its ultimate blessed destination.
  2. Don’t confuse life’s complicated winding road with voluntary spiritual wandering!  Even though Naomi’s winding road took her through pain and suffering and times when she probably couldn’t even comprehend what was happening to her and her family, she maintained her faith in God.  In fact, it seems that as things became more and more desperate for Naomi, she chose to become more and more dependent on God.

I believe this is exactly how God wants us to be – utterly dependent on him and patient with whatever path he chooses for us to travel.  When we are in dependent on God and patient with the winding road like Naomi, who knows what amazing things God will choose to do in our lives?  On the other hand, who knows what kind of suffering and road blocks we will encounter when we are impatient and determined to make our own “straight road to success” like Elimelech tried to do?

This week, if you feel like you are “off the grid” traveling an unchartered and scary road or even of you feel like you are just plain “off in the ditch” try to be patient and trust in God like Naomi.  It’s OK to be scared, sad or even a little bitter.  Just remember he loves you and he has a destination in mind for your travels.  The best thing is that destination is with him for eternity!

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Previous Intersections Articles
Story-Telling Still Spitting into the Wind Celebrating a New Work Ethic

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